Denard Robinson turned 22 the day the Wolverines invaded South Bend to take on the Irish. Unfortunately for him and his team, celebrating wasn't an option.
Robinson fired four of Michigan's five interceptions, fumbled the ball away in the red zone, and experienced what he called the worst game of his career in the Wolverines' 13-6 loss at Notre Dame.
"I wasn't accountable," Robinson insisted. "We didn't make plays when we needed to, and I threw a lot of interceptions."
Those game-changing changes of possession torpedoed a U-M effort that saw the Wolverines out-gain the Irish, 299-239, and out-rush them, 161-94, while controlling the football for 33:19 of the game's 60 minutes.
Michigan squandered chances early and simply ran out of time late, seeing their senior quarterback struggle to a 13-for-24 throwing effort for 138 yards and the quartet of quick changes.
"We all need to do a better job, and that's where it starts - it starts with me," U-M head coach Brady Hoke insisted. "I need to do a better job of coaching the game of football, and as a staff we will do that."
They'll start by going through videotape revealing more squandered chances than a wolf starving to death in a packed henhouse. The Irish took full advantage, with quarterback Tommy Rees (8-for-11, 115 yards) providing a steady hand after starter Everett Golson (3-for-8, 30 yards, two interceptions) faltered.
The Wolverines whiffed on a huge opportunity early, after Raymon Taylor picked off Golson's first throw of the game. Taylor's return and a facemask call on Notre Dame set U-M up on the ND 10, but the Wolverines had it in reverse thereafter.
The Irish buried Robinson twice on sacks, and Brendan Gibbons' 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
"We had some opportunities in the red zone, obviously, in the first half to put some points on the board," Hoke said.
Michigan's next foray to the Notre Dame 10 proved even more excruciating. Robinson drove the Wolverines 78 yards, completing five passes along the way.
But on first-and-goal, a trick play blew up on the Wolverines. Robinson pitched to running back Vincent Smith, who tried to throw to the end zone for Drew Dileo. The toss appeared to slip out of Smith's hand, floated behind Dileo and into the hands of ND safety Nicki Baratti.
The Wolverines' Oh-for-2 start in the red zone threw up some serious red flags, but Hoke wasn't about to toss a yellow one on any play calls.
"If we get behind the guy and throw the ball a little deeper, it's a pretty good play call," he assured.
Meanwhile, the Irish made Michigan pay for its next turnover. Robinson gunned a strike on third-and-long, but right on the numbers of ND linebacker Mante Te'o, who raced back 28 yards with it to the U-M 17.
Michigan's defense held firm, but Kyle Brindza nailed a 33-yard field goal to put the Irish on top, 3-0, at the 10:09 mark of the second quarter. Suddenly, a game the Wolverines dominated statistically over the opening 20 minutes had Irish eyes smiling.
They flew wide open on the very next play from scrimmage, cornerback Bennett Jackson picking off another Robinson throw and setting the Irish up at the U-M 39. Two quick Golson tosses put the ball on the 10, but then it was ND's turn to see the red zone turn into a stop sign.
Golson rolled right and floated a pass for paydirt. U-M safety Thomas Gordon made the interception, then hung on as the Irish tried to claw the ball away.
But the chances just kept coming, during Robinson's nightmarish first half. Under pressure, he fired an interception for the third straight series, this one tipped and picked off by Teo at the U-M 48.
"Bad passes. Forcing it," Robinson agonized afterwards. "A guy in my face? Don't force it. Just try to make a move. Try to do what I can do to move the ball downfield a little bit."
Under the subbed-in Rees, the Irish drove to the U-M 1, backed up to the 11 via penalty, and faced third-and-goal from there. But freshman safety Jarrod Wilson interfered with tight end Tyler Eifert in the end zone, setting the Irish up with first down at the 2.
Rees scored on a keeper to make it 10-0 with 1:21 remaining in the half. That - and a subsequent Hail Mary throw by Robinson, picked off by ND cornerback KaiVarae Russell - ended one of the most confounding halves of football ever by the Wolverines.
Those in maize and blue didn't know whether to curse the offensive mistakes that kept them out of the lead, or thank Interception Jesus that they hadn't been blown out of the building after five first-half pickoffs. Make that, interceptions on five consecutive passes Michigan attempted.
"We always try to go to the next play," Hoke said. "I mean, you have to
you've got to move forward."
The second half opened with the football still well oiled for the Wolverines, but this time with a twist. They drove from their own 21 to the ND 10, but Robinson fumbled trying to pick up the first down, Jackson pouncing on it at the Irish 8.
That made it six straight possessions, six straight turnovers, and counting.
But the Wolverines pitched a third-quarter shutout, and just kept hammering away on offense. A 42-yard drive finally cracked the scoreboard, Gibbons punching through a 33-yard field goal at the 13:10 mark of the fourth quarter.
Almost miraculously, the turnover-devastated Wolverines found themselves in a one-score game.
The Irish, though, drove right back downfield 53 yards, Brindza nailing a 39-yard field goal with just 6:46 left, putting the Irish back in control, 13-3.
Gibbons struck back with a 31-yarder with 3:27 remaining, making it 13-6 and giving the Wolverines hope for one more miracle finish against the Irish.
But there wasn't one, this time around. Notre Dame made plays to run out the clock, unwrapping all the gifts to go 4-0, while U-M plunged to 2-2, with two weeks prior to the Big Ten opener to ponder what might have been.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial